The U.S. House of Representatives passed 222-205 a version of the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization bill that cut protections and programs for same-sex couples, indigenous tribes and undocumented immigrants. The U.S. Senate previously approved those protections in April.
The following provisions were cut from the Republican-controlled House version of the bill, all of which were originally approved by the Senate:
- Extend the power of state-recognized Native American tribes “over all persons” in the special circumstance of domestic violence on reservations, allowing them to open and operate rape crisis centers with grant money from the measure
- Extend visas to undocumented immigrants who experience domestic violence and allowing spouses to self-petition for citizenship. Many people gain citizenship through marrying a U.S. citizen, and spouses could use their control over their partner’s immigration status as a tool of abuse, refusing to sign the proper paperwork or threatening to revoke it.
- Provide funding for programs that serve those in the LGBT community who experience domestic violence, and prohibit discrimination in funding based on gender
VAWA—enacted in 1994 to provide grant money for police departments and agencies to aid victims and prosecute domestic violence offenders—has received bipartisan support every time it has needed reauthorization. But this go around, the fight is falling mostly along party lines: While the bill passed the Democrat-controlled Senate 68-31 with some bipartisan support, all 31 opponents were Republican men.
Republican Rep. Judy Biggert wanted to add an amendment to increase specific protections for LGBT victims of domestic violence, but House leadership blocked her from introducing the amendment.
“This is a victims centered bill,” said Republican Rep. Sandy Adams, the sponsor of the GOP bill and a survivor of domestic abuse, to CBS News. “As we look to reauthorize VAWA, we want to make sure that we’re not politicizing this issue, but just reauthorizing it. If you look at the bill, and what is in it, you will see that it is centered around our victims.”
House Republican leaders claim that the bill covers all people without specifically enumerating LGBT, but most shelters and social services, especially those for domestic violence survivors, are cisgender women-specific or otherwise gendered and place people based on legal sex, leaving gay cisgender men and transgender people without anywhere to turn. For example, a women-specific shelter could treat trangender woman as a man and deny assistance.
In 2010, programs serving LGBT people who were abused by their domestic partners or other intimate partners recorded 5,052 reports of such abuse, according to a study by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Nearly 45 percent of these victims reported being turned away by other groups helping domestic violence victims.
LGBT-specific shelters and abuse-survivor services are extremely rare. Few federal and state surveys enumerate sexual orientation and transgender identities, making it difficult to show social service agencies that domestic violence is an issue for the LGBT community; however, a Center for American Progress survey estimates 30 percent of same-sex partnerships experience domestic violence.
“Instead of seeking to expand protections, this new House bill puts victims of domestic violence in greater danger and excludes vulnerable populations from critical protections,” wrote Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, in a statement. “This House bill does not advance protections against discrimination, but would further stigmatize particular populations.”
President Barack Obama threatened to veto the new version of VAWA, with the White House issuing the following explanatory statement:
H.R. 4970 fails to provide for concurrent special domestic-violence criminal jurisdiction by tribal authorities over non-Indians, and omits clarification of tribal courts’ full civil jurisdiction regarding certain protection orders over non-Indians.
The bill also fails to include language that would prohibit discrimination against LGBT victims in VAWA grant programs. No sexual-assault or domestic-violence victim should be beaten, hurt, or killed because they could not access needed support, assistance, and protection.